There was a commercial several years ago with a jingle that went something like, “I wanna be like Mike,” that all the little Michael Jordan wannabes used to sing. Little boys who wanted to grow up to be Michael Jordan or at least to be rich, famous and athletically gifted like him. They made layups with their tongues stuck out, they wore red shirts emblazoned with number 23 and they played basketball and more basketball. But for most of them basketball would end up being a sport they could enjoy watching, perhaps even playing in some gym rat fashion. They were really just pretending that they might grow up to be Michael Jordan. Friends of mine took their 8-year-old daughter back to her birth country and watched as she walked along the sidewalk saying jibber-jabber words in the local cadence in an effort to sound like she was speaking her native language. Of course, she wasn’t really speaking the language, she was just pretending. My own daughter, on her earlier trips to her birth country, worked at “blending” whenever we were out in public. She’d sit in a public area or walk down the street mimicking those around her. She was thrilled when nobody seemed to take much notice of her – as if she’d blended right in. Her shining moment was when she was sitting in a crowded waiting room at a train station and an old Korean lady came and sat down next to her and started speaking to her in Korean. She smiled at the old lady, said, “American. Adopted,” and jumped up to come tell me (who was standing out on the platform – a safe distance away so as not to taint her Korean-ness) that she’d blended! She’d blended! Then she laughed at herself because she really had just pretended.
As I walk around Italy, I try to say the basic greetings and requests in Italian. I sit at a café and hope that I look like I belong there, not like just another tourist infatuated with this beautiful country. From the moment I stepped on this soil several years ago, I’ve felt like I somehow belong here. For years before that I knew that the one language I’d really like to learn is Italian. But, just like the little boy who dreamed of being MJ or my friends’ daughter or my own – both trying out what it feels like to fit in with their birth cultures, my feeble attempts to appear Italian are really, in the end, just another form of pretending. But, just like childhood make-believe, pretending is fun; it transports me to another world, another life. I feel myself slowing down to the rhythms of the local community. So, for now, “Ciao Baby!” – I wanna be like Michelangelo!
Causes Debbie Dunham Supports
Holt International Children's Services
NAFA - Northwest Adoptive Families Assn.